Editing Pessimism

If you know me personally, then you know that depression plays a big role in my personality. I can quickly fall into bouts of melancholy.

One of the greatest realizations I came to in my adolescence was that being depressed is not wrong. That is, my melancholic personality was not a condemnation of my moral being.

From there, the next step was learning that it is a mark of maturity to control my emotions. Certainly, spontaneous grief and joy are what makes life meaningful, but day-to-day functioning requires some ability to express emotions by choice rather than by habit.

Finally, the toughest step is figuring out how to modify my own emotions. I keep looking for new tools every day, and I want to share one with you that seems to pay dividends.

This speech about optimism has an interesting strategy. The topic is programming, but the theme is overcoming pessimism. Special thanks to DivaLion for sharing this on her blog.

The basic gist is that we consider a given circumstance along three axes, namely

  • personal vs. impersonal
  • general vs. specific
  • permanent vs. temporary

Pessimists like myself instinctively apply personal, general and permanent attributes to negative events. For example, after being rebuked for a mistake at work I might think to myself, "I'll never get the hang of this job." Mapped out, that sentence looks like this:

I'll (personal) never (permanent) get the hang of this job (general).

An alternative thought could be

My boss (impersonal) criticized one of the things I did (specific) yesterday (temporary).

The difference keeps negative thoughts in the realm of constructive criticism rather than condemnation, and pessimists tend to do the opposite with positive events.

The trick is that this requires cognitive therapy, that is, thought training. It means catching when I find myself thinking the former and reformulating my private ideas into the latter.

Editing is the biggest challenge in writing. Self-editing seems even harder but even more vital. So far, this maneuver's helped on several occasions.

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